CARSON, California — Show up at the all-new Porsche Experience Center near the end of a workday, get behind the wheel of a brand-new 911, drive to the long straight running alongside the infamous 405 freeway, and you’ll have six lanes of gridlocked cars enviously watching you do launch-controlled, triple-digit acceleration runs over and over again.
Where Porsche’s Experience Center is
Each and every day more than 300,000 cars and trucks pass Porsche’s all-new Experience Center. On Google Maps, the triangle-shaped, 53-acre lot squeezed between Los Angeles’ highways 110 and 405 is still a big dirt patch with faint outlines of the road course etched into the earth. Porsche announced five years ago that this would be home to the fifth Experience Center, joining the Experience Center at Porsche’s Leipzig plant in Germany, the Experience Center alongside England’s Silverstone, the Experience Center at France’s Le Mans, and the Experience Center next to Porsche’s North American headquarters in Atlanta. (A sixth Experience Center being built in Shanghai should open next year.)
When Porsche executives flew over greater Los Angeles, looking for somewhere to set up the newest Experience Center, they were overwhelmed by how little available land there was near the city center. They saw plenty of wide-open desert, but Porsche wanted to be as close as it could be to its dedicated buyers; 23 percent of all Porsche sports cars sold in the U.S. find homes in Cali, and if the state were a country it would be Porsche’s fifth largest market in the world. When the big wigs at Porsche saw the Dominguez Hills Golf Course, butted up against landfills, they decided that would be where they’d set up shop. They approached the industrial city of Carson, worked a deal with Mayor Albert Robles, and started what should’ve been a relatively straightforward build that hit numerous delays and took a half-decade to finish. “We are here for many, many years,” says Detlev von Platen, Porsche’s global head of sales and marketing. “I can’t imagine a better location for this place. Despite all these challenges, we made it happen.”
What Porsche’s Experience Center is
This $60-million facility is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, and it should attract about 50,000 visitors annually. Porsche expects to see a mix of corporate folk and tourists — who will no doubt enjoy the driving simulators, the shop filled with Porsche-branded goodies, and the in-house Restaurant 917 with gourmet delights — as well as new and old owners and enthusiasts who want to learn limits of their own car or a loaner Porsche on the 4.1-mile “driver development track consisting of eight different modules designed to simulate everyday driving conditions.”
The main “module” is a 1.3-mile handling road course that can be split into east and west loops. The loops were designed to mimic tight, twisty country roads, not racetracks with wide, forgiving turns, so you have to be very diligent about your speed and braking, especially since there’s very little run-off. As we drove around the handling course in a 911, we found the parked Goodyear Blimp on the other side of the 405 to be a great reference point for when to brake and where to turn in. (We probably should’ve picked something that can’t fly away.) Then there’s the aforementioned acceleration straight that’s about three-quarters of a mile long and is capped off with a recreation of the famous banked carousel from the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife.
The low-mew or low-friction courses simulate ice, rain, and the like by pumping 88,000 gallons of recycled water on different areas within the Experience Center. The “Ice Hill” is a 7-percent slope that kinks in the middle, which means you have to master the Scandinavian Flick to get from one end to the next without spinning. Same goes for the low-friction handling course, which has highly polished concrete that sends you skidding every which way, as well as the wet skid pad that challenges you to hold a consistent, predictable slide around a 300-foot circle. The coolest low-friction feature at the Experience Center is the kick plate. You drive toward a dead-straight skid pad at 25 mph and when your car’s front tires get wet, a computer-controlled hydraulic tread set flush with the pavement jolts either left or right, hitting the rear tires, tossing them left or right, causing the rear end to run wild, and forcing the driver to catch the car before losing control.
Finally, L.A.’s Porsche Experience Center offers a pretty serious off-course where participants can drive Cayennes and Macans up and down 45-degree ascents and descents, through deep craters, and across teeter-tottering balance boards made of logs. Porsche hopes owners will soon be able to take delivery of their all-new Porsche at the L.A. Experience Center, something you can already do at the Atlanta location, but that hasn’t come together just yet.
Why Porsche’s Experience Center matters
The coolest thing about the L.A. Porsche Experience Center is that it’s the new home of Porsche’s North American motorsports branch, which used to be located in nearby Santa Ana. There’s a fully functioning workshop just off the lobby of the Experience Center, and you can watch engineers wrench on million-dollar cars that will be racing over the weekend. The motorsports team has over 5 million racecar parts in stock at the Experience Center, and they will be able to offer full, frame-off restorations to well-heeled customers.
Even better, this new Experience Center should catalyze business development and bring economic vibrancy to blue-collar Carson and its surrounding areas. “We have the power to attract other people,” says Klaus Zellmer, president and CEO of Porsche Cars North America. “If that helps the community and economy, that’s a win-win for everybody.” This all-new Experience Center is a huge investment for Porsche, one that not only gives Porsche’s motorsports branch a brand-new home with state-of-the-art equipment but also gives Porsche sports car enthusiasts a driving oasis on the edge of the country’s second most populous city.